Giving up effort

“As a dreamer it seems convincing that you are an individual who can make an effort to get from A to B. In reality there is no you and no A or B. But going even deeper than that, there is no-one that can make an effort and there is no-one that can give up seeming to make an effort. ”

Tony Parsons. “Nothing Being Everything”.

When I first came across the “message” of non-dualism, it was a rude shock. I had spent a “long time,” “many years,” in trying to pay attention to myself and my surroundings, understand myself better, come to a state of peace and calm, improve my psychological state, have more compassion and … the list is already quite long.

When I read statements like the one above by Tony, then I began to “give up effort.” And this led to my second rude shock. I can’t really either acquire or give up anything. The one to whom acquisition and renunciation is happening is a dreamer.

There is only the flow of life and experience. This is essentially undefinable. Thought and the dreamt thinker may try to make sense of the flow, apply labels to the flow. But do labels really capture reality?

Just as much as striving is of no avail, giving up striving is of no avail either. There is only what is.


Our thought processes inevitably tend towards definition. We seek to define outward life situations–work, relationships– as well as our “inner” states. Is she friend or foe? An inner heuristic quickly supplies an answer. Do I feel like a success or a failure today? Likewise, another heuristic.

This is a convenient layer that thought paints over what is essentially mysterious and unknown. Life as we experience it is, if we pay attention, a complex tangle of sensation, feeling, perception, thought, memory, action, bodily impulse. But our attention is sucked, as if by a magnet, toward what our specific thought processes define our life as.

We can recognise that thought is just one of many players in the movie of life. This moment is unknown. Not as an idea, but as a lived reality.

Our lives escape definition at all levels. The unknown is the unknown. Labels are fundamentally empty.


The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head.

Thus begins the classic On Having No Head. As Douglas Harding sometimes writes, this is it. One doesn’t need to know or understand more than this simple statement. However, there are deeper and deeper implications to this simple seeing (of headlessness) that we can all access and which point, simultaneously, to both the void and the fullness “within.”

Let’s take a moment to look at our surroundings. There is a window, through which some trees and an apartment block are visible. There is a wall, and a half-open door. Here is my table, on which my teacup and the computer rest. Here are my hands, my torso–and, very manifestly, no head. For me, this sudden recognition triggers a sense of a void within which all is operating. There is a feeling of lightness, of not being trapped within my skull and my body, and an urge to laugh with a sense of freedom. Particular sensory imputs–colours, shapes, sounds–stand out in sharp focus.

This is a glimpse of freedom, according to me. However, the thinking process does something interesting with this glimpse. The thinking process wants this experience to be repeated and to live “continuously” in this glimpse. At that point, it is an interesting experiment to relax and see that these insistent thoughts are themselves arising and subsiding in a perfect void that is essentially clear.